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The Blue Line reroute, visualized

Commenter Reza pointed out Track Twenty-Nine's great visual diagram of the proposed Franconia-Greenbelt "blue line reroute". He shows each train in a 12-minute period as a separate line, making it easy to visualize the relative volume on each segment of Metro track before and after the proposed change.

Left: Current service. Right: Service under proposed changes. Click a diagram for larger version.

See the post for more details and an analysis of the relative time savings and costs (riders to L'Enfant should save an average of 9 minutes, while riders to Farragut West lose 6).

David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. 


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I posted THIS alternate at T29. In my plan there are a handful of changes that sacrifice some service at Huntington in order to simply the system and avoid the need for more colors, or the splitting of colors.

by BeyondDC on Nov 21, 2008 5:54 pm • linkreport


Switched the low-traffic Yellow and Blue south of Pentagon, and ran the Silver along a completely different route that takes advantage of spare capacity.

by Squalish on Nov 21, 2008 6:28 pm • linkreport

These maps are displaying frequency of trains, not volume of ridership, right? Out of curiosity, is there any reason to believe that ridership is really proportional to the number of trains? It should and may well be, but it's always seemed to me that the Blue and Yellow trains have fewer people per car than the other lines.

(PS: the Captcha message was "Graham shalt". You really are getting behind his parking plans, aren't you?)

by cminus on Nov 21, 2008 10:15 pm • linkreport

Dave- I realize I sometimes drop antagonistic posts for the sake of stirring debate, but let me ask this-

What would you say about a proposal of overhauling Metro's route nomenclature. I'd imagine it would involve relying less on giving a color to each service route and more towards giving each trunk line its own color, like NYC. Thus you can avoid this mess of running 'blue line' trains across the Yellow Line bridge, etc.

It seems that in the effort to maintain the color-based line system, that the WMATA routers are going to concede some unnecessary short term confusion. I very much so realize the conveinence of our current method, but what say you?

by Tim on Nov 21, 2008 11:32 pm • linkreport

I don't know where the Matt got the information that the interlocking at the junctions can process train no faster then every 135 seconds. The train control and signaling system is designed to accommodate 90 second headways period. The junction interlocking can be reset to the route of the next train just second after the train passing through the interlocking clears it. The eastbound interlocking can be reset and ready for the next train before the train dwelling at the platform closes it's doors.

The route through the interlocking is set automatically buy the trains. Wayside train control receives destination information from the trains in advance of the interlocking by way of Train to Wayside Communication.

The only limited factors for processing trains through Rosslyn heading eastbound is dwell time at the platform and the synchronization of trains approaching from the west and south. The same also applies to the junctions south of L'Enfant Plaza and King Street, and the junction north of Pentagon.

Processing trains westbound at Stadium-Armory is not an issue because the Stadium-Armory platform is 1.37 miles west of the junction.

by Sand Box John on Nov 22, 2008 10:36 am • linkreport

I keep being very unhappy at this switch. I travel from F-S to Foggy Bottom, and trains are extremely packed at rush hour. I have seen no reasonable explanation on how this would reduce the packing at rush hour. I hear talk that the yellow lines are so packed. That's all fine, but the blue lines have little seating after leaving F-S and standing space fills up quickly after the airport. At night, it's the same in reverse.

by Jasper on Nov 22, 2008 1:33 pm • linkreport

@Jasper: A separate Blue Line (M Street Subway) might help there. This is, at best, a temporary solution to a growing problem.

by Adam on Nov 22, 2008 2:11 pm • linkreport

Well, I can propose a whole suite of new necessary lines. But seeing how long it's taking to get the Silver line going, I am not waiting for that. All I see now that "my" full trains are being taken away, and added to another "full" place.

What I am frustrated about - and this post is probably not the right place to vent it - is that I can not find a decent motivation for this rerouting other than that the rest of the system is full too. Yeah, we know that. De WMATA system is bursting out of its tunnels. Wayyy too popular.

But that is no reason to rerouting full trains to other full lines. It's filling one hole by digging another. Useless.

I will shut up here now, before I really start ranting. I like the visualization though. There can not be enough pretty pictures.

by Jasper on Nov 22, 2008 2:32 pm • linkreport

I'm with Tim - If Metro is going to adopt more complex routing schemes in the future (and with the proposed 'connector' capital projects, even more of these would be possible), then they're going to have to seriously look at re-naming the entire system.

A NYC like system where services are assigned a name or number and color coded to match the trunk line they serve (could and should be the same colors we have today) would allow for a lot more information to get across. The current system is about at its limit.

by Alex B. on Nov 22, 2008 2:44 pm • linkreport

We are not New York. We are not New York. We are not New York.

The only reason why New York has their crazy confusing color/letter/number scheme is because their system was not planned as a coherent whole like ours. New York's naming system is pretty unique among Metros in the world. The only reason why New York has its crazy scheme is that its lines were originally run by competing companies who all had different schemes. When they all went out of business, and their assets were purchased by the public, the MTA decided it was easier to keep the naming system in place becuase New Yorkers were used to it and knew their own line and it would have caused more confusion to rename it.

This history is very similar to the numbering of MetroBus routes in our region. When WMATA took over the buses from O. Roy Chalk et al., they didn't change the numbers because, regardless of how stupid they were in light of a new coherent regional system rather than a private turf-based system, riders knew them. It would have caused more trouble to renumber everything than the benefit of having a more "rational" bus numbering system. In truth, the major arterial bus routes (70s, 30s, etc.) in the District and inside the beltway Maryland have roughly the same numbers and routings as the streetcars the replaced.

Changing our system would as stupid as them changing theirs. The only thing I would change about the proposal is to call the trains Yellow Line trains rather than Blues.

by Cavan on Nov 24, 2008 10:00 am • linkreport

Cavan, NYC's system is certainly more complicated, but the nomenclature is not. There are certainly legacy issues with certain NYC lines, but the system has been reworked sufficiently.

Your point about making the blues yellows is exactly what I'm getting at, however. NYC's system is quite simple (even if the trackage is not). There are lines (the actual tracks), services (the letter or number), routes (the route a service takes over certain tracks), and colors (all services that use the same trunk line through Manhattan have the same color).

The confusion with the blue line split is that in DC, lines, routes, and services are essentially identical for the purposes of the end user. We think of them all as just the 'blue line' or 'red line.' Hence the confusion over this change in routing and the provision of a new service - it's no surprise that WMATA's solution was to rebrand the whole thing as a new color - the Brown line.

That's all well and good, but you run out of colors really fast. Silver and Purple are already spoken for. That pretty much leaves Brown and Pink as the only other options for readily identifiable colors. Should the system expand any more (and this does not require route-mile expansion, the construction of the track connectors at Rosslyn, Pentagon, and in other places opens the door to new services without adding route miles), you're going to have a problem with the color-only identifiers. Using a simpler Number or Letter as the identifier and then associating that symbol with a color both increases the number of available routes (any number or letter will do) and also allows for more colors to be used (since color is not the primary identifier - compare the shades of green on NYC's ACE and G lines, for example).

Anyway, we're not at that point yet. However, should we expand track in the fashion I think many of us would like to see, the current system will not be able to effectively work.

by Alex B. on Nov 24, 2008 10:25 am • linkreport

oops - I meant the 4, 5, and 6 compared to the G, not ACE.

by Alex B. on Nov 24, 2008 10:29 am • linkreport

Just want to second Cavan's suggestion of calling the new line yellow and not blue. And not changing the nomenclature to be like New York.

by logoswar on Nov 24, 2008 12:29 pm • linkreport


I agree with you that at some point in the future there is a possibility that our color based naming system could break down. If the amount of time it has taken the Silver Line (40 years) and the Purple Line (20 years) to get funding, I doubt any of us will see the day that such changes will be necessary. Perhaps it will be a problem for our children's children. It the meantime, I see no reason to fix a system that isn't broken.

by Cavan on Nov 24, 2008 1:03 pm • linkreport

Oh, I agree that this isn't the time to do it, I'm just pointing out that increased complexities in routing options, as exemplified by the blue line split, will push the limits of the current system - to say nothing of the proposed expansions already on the table taking the rest of the readily available colors.

I, for one, remain hopeful that it's a problem we have to deal with sooner rather than later.

I would also like to eventually see (perhaps with the New Blue line) some track connections made to make a circle line routing possible - Rosslyn to the Pentagon to the Navy Yard, up to Potomac Ave, across H Street on the New Blue and back to Rosslyn. But that's really dreaming...

by Alex B. on Nov 24, 2008 1:13 pm • linkreport

These are great graphics. The point I take from them is that the core is saturated. The Brown or Pink or Psychedelic Line will put the core at capacity. Adding the Silver Line is folly, as there simply is not enough core capacity. Sure, you can remove a train from Vienna, but that part of the Orange Line is approaching saturation. The other implication from the graphs and discussion is that there is really no good option here, just two least-bad ones.

by Chuck Coleman on Nov 24, 2008 7:24 pm • linkreport

You make a good point Chuck, looking at this rendering you do wonder how the heck the core can support the Silver Line.

Has there been any studies of how many Orange Line riders would become Silver Line riders? Focusing on customers West of Falls Church of course...

by FourthandEye on Nov 24, 2008 8:33 pm • linkreport

The only Orange line customers that will be affected by the Silver line will be those west of East Falls Church. The others will see no difference in service, other than the color of the LEDs on the train they board.

Very few, if any, passengers ride the Orange line past Stadium-Armory in the morning.

by Alex B. on Nov 24, 2008 10:28 pm • linkreport

@ Alex I actually have seen alot of people on Orange Line in the morning past Stadium Armory, You see Hundreds of school students between like 7:45 and 9:00 going to minesota ave and when schools are out you trains and buses being less crowded.

Isnt there a switch track between the red and yellow/green near gallery place and a switch between the red and blue/orange. If so couldnt they try to have a route from like Rhode Island Ave to Franconia Springfield/Branch Ave , Vienna to Union Station New Carrolton/Largo to Dupont Circle much like they did with the Green line commuter shortcut before Columbia Hgts & Georgia Ave stations opened.

WMATA needs to come up with a solution because if we keep adding new lines were going to end up with a bunch of wild a** colours and you wont be able to tell them apart on the maps.

On some of the maps the Red and the Orange lines look like they are almost the same colour.

We need to eventually plain to either go by numbers, letters, Line names or a combination of all three after we fill all of the basic colors because the varations of blue, red, green, because once we get into colours like turquiose, yellow green, dark green, crimson, natural red etc. the maps will have to be the exact colours without bleeding like the orange and red do on some maps to avoid the colours looking the same.

We will have to get rid of the simplness of the maps eventually imagine trying to tell someone catch the navy blue line or the turquoise line or the natural blue line you will get mass confusion when they look on the map all you see is blue unless its explicitly noted what line is what.

How about going with something like

* U1, U2, U3 etc where U is from underground and the number marks a line

* R1=red, B1=blue, P1=purple, O1=orange, etc. and as we add more lines add whatever letter to which line they mostly follow so you may get R2 or B2 or P2 etc and if its a new line a new letter like K and so on and so forth so we'd have like a million different combinations

*Redline = line 1 , blueline = line 2, purple = line 3, orange = line 4, etc. then eventually drop the colours gradually until we get to a number system and it could also go for letters.

by kk on Nov 24, 2008 11:36 pm • linkreport

Can we eventually get a damn circular line inside and outside DC those would fix a lot of the damn problems.

if there is a delay on one line or a station get on the circular line and go up or down to the next transfer station and go from there to your station or closest station or if your going from one side of the map to the other you wont have to go through metro center, gallery place or le'enfant plaza.

by kk on Nov 24, 2008 11:43 pm • linkreport

kk, Once again, this might be a problem that our children's children would have. We don't need to fix something that is currently not broken. We know that it takes far less time to create a fantasy transit map (couple of hours) than it does to build a rail line (decades if we go by the Silver and Purple Lines).

I also have to question the wisdom of offering variations of routes on the same tracks that we already have. There is a lot of efficiencies, both for the operator and passenger, built into having trains run on the same route at all times of the day for all functions.

There is hope that the Purple Line would be the beginning of a circumferential line. However, I'm not ready to jump to that conclusion. There are more pressing immediate concerns that need to be addressed on that project, like breaking ground.

As far as core capacity, I think that a separate blue trunk line has a better chance of becoming reality in our lifetime than any sort of inner loop.

by Cavan on Nov 25, 2008 10:29 am • linkreport

I was talking about a circle line on a much smaller scale - not a Beltway scale, as the Purple line would be. I'm talking about a circle bounded by Rosslyn, RFK, the Navy Yard and U Street as the max extent - basically, a loop around the edge of the L'Enfant City.

by Alex B. on Nov 25, 2008 11:06 am • linkreport

Call me biased, but I'm not a fan of the ideas (BeyondDC and Squalish) to reroute trains from Huntington via Rosslyn. I'd prefer to keep my direct connection to L'Enfant.

by Froggie on Nov 30, 2008 4:59 pm • linkreport

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